How can we inspire creativity? Impose limitations

download (25)Today, our world needs innovative problem-solvers. Creativity has become an essential skill that students need in order to be successful. But, how do we encourage students to develop creativity? I used to think it was by giving them more freedom and choice. Yet, when students are given unlimited options, they become overwhelmed and are unable to produce anything.

This is what I have learned, through my own personal experience, and by observing Genius Hour and other creative projects in classrooms. It may seem crazy, but it’s true: Creativity craves constraint. Think about it, being faced with a blank page or canvas can be crippling, but imposing some limitations can get your creativity flowing.

There are many examples of this – here’s a few you can try in the classroom:


This popular Food Network cooking show requires contestants to create a dish that showcases the unusual ingredients found in their basket. Chefs often produce unique combinations that they never would have thought to try. In the classroom, we could give students a “menu” of options and require them to include 3 ingredients in their final project. This is a great way to push students out of their comfort zones to try something new, and they often produce something they never would have thought to create on their own.

One Minute, One Take

Elevate book reviews to a new level of creativity with One Minute, One Take videos. Students must record a one minute summary of a text, and they must do it all in one continuous take. This requires careful selection and planning. This example of Forrest Gump is incredible!

6-Word Stories

The most famous example of the 6-word story is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, who bet some friends he could write a story using only 6 words!

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

This is a powerful example of using both the words and the silence around them to create meaning. Encourage students to craft their own 6-word stories about themselves or where they are from. This could be a great way to build classroom community and a culture of creativity at the beginning of the year.

Blackout Poetry


Artist/author, Austin Kleon, is famous for his creative Blackout Poetry. He begins with a newspaper article and blacks out all but a few words, leaving behind a simple, but thought-provoking message. Students could create Blackout Poetry to capture the big idea of a lesson or unit.



But, why should the students have all the fun? Here are some ideas to build your own creativity:

The Daily Create

If you want to be more creative, The Daily Create is the place to start! Each morning at 5am EST, a new creative challenge is posted. These challenges range from photography to writing to digital media to hand-drawn artwork. It’s a great way to stretch your imagination and share your work on Twitter via @ds106dc.


Put your friends to the creativity test with PechaFlikr. You will be given 20 images, posted for 20 seconds each, and you must create a coherent story to match the images! Creator Alan Levine insists that improv is the best way to improve your creativity.

And, last but not least, TWITTER! Each time you carefully convey your thoughts in 140 characters or less, you are building your creativity!

What are other ways you inspire creativity through constraints?


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